Adams trial: Rothschadl says he never threw a punch
Prosecution witnesses Mark Rothschadl and Ronny Lanoue sparred with defense attorney Peter Wold, and 10-year-old Dallas Lanoue testified on behalf of the prosecution Wednesday during the second day of testimony in the assault trial of Detroit Lakes Superintendent Mark Adams.
Adams was charged by a Becker County grand jury Nov. 1 with first- and third-degree felony assault for allegedly punching Mark Rothschadl of rural Waubun in the face, breaking his left eye socket and causing serious vision problems that still persist.
There was no love lost between the two men because Adams is involved with Rothschadl's ex-wife, Terri Anderson -- an involvement that began before either was divorced.
Testimony started Wednesday with Dallas Lanoue, son of Matt Lanoue of rural Waubun, who testified Tuesday.
Dallas said he'd been riding his dirt bike in the early afternoon after he got back from a football game Sept. 9 and saw a man he described as tall, with dark hair with gray spots, pull into the driveway and ask his father for direction to the Rothschadl place. He identified the man as Mark Adams.
Dallas told County Attorney Joe Evans he was positive that Adams stopped for directions in the early afternoon, not late afternoon as Adams claims.
Whether Adams was there early or late in the afternoon matters because the prosecution claims that Adams pre-planned the confrontation that occurred about 5 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Rothschadl farm, located about a half-mile from the Matt Lanoue residence.
The pre-planning is a key element in the assault charges.
Wold, the defense attorney, wanted young Dallas to admit that he had been riding a four-wheeler, not a dirt bike, when Adams drove into the yard. Since the family owned just one ATV and had picked it up that afternoon in Fergus Falls, it would show that Adams was there later in the day.
Dallas, who testified in a confident, helpful voice, said no one had coached him on what to say, and he had not discussed the case with his family, though he had occasionally heard adults talking about it.
He admitted he really liked driving the four-wheeler, but sometimes said "four-wheeler" when he meant dirt bike, and only rides the dirt bike now. He told Wold he had not been driving the four-wheeler that day after it was brought home from Fergus Falls.
Next to testify was Chris Brunner, 22, who works in maintenance at Skaff Apartments in Moorhead.
He and Matt Lanoue were among a group of family and friends who went to Fergus Falls the day of the alleged assault.
Lanoue and Brunner had testified before the grand jury -- with Lanoue saying Adams had stopped at his place for directions in the early afternoon -- and retail receipts later showed they were off by a good 60 to 90 minutes in their estimates of when they left and returned home that day.
Brunner had also told defense investigators that he prepaid cash at Wal-Mart for two tires he purchased and had installed while in Fergus Falls. But he actually had used a debit card and paid after he returned to pick up his vehicle. He said he usually carries cash and just forgot he had paid with a check card that day.
Although Brunner testified that he had made an honest mistake about the day's timeline, had only met Mark Rothschadl once, and never intentionally misled the grand jury, defense attorneys or anyone else, he melted in the hands of Wold.
He quietly answered yes to a series of defense questions that made it look like he had intentionally made the story up.
Wold's final question, for example, was this:
"Then you get the credit card receipt with your signature, and there's nowhere else to turn -- the story was all false."
"Yes," Brunner answered.
But during re-direct, he told Evans that he didn't know the information was wrong at the time, that he never knowingly lied, never got together with others to plan what to say, and never had the goal of getting Adams indicted and charged.
Ronald Lanoue, on the other hand, gave as good as he got. He listened closely to defense questions and frequently disagreed with all or part of how they were phrased.
Lanoue lives in the rural Waubun area and has been friends with Rothschadl for about 15 years. He works as a farmhand when needed and runs a skid-steer business.
Lanoue went to the Rothschadl farm the day of the assault to help move a load of drywall, and was surprised to see Terri Anderson and Mark Adams there together.
The defense tried to make much of discrepancies in various statements Lanoue had given, in which he first said that Terri Anderson had told him Mark Rothschadl wanted him to come back later, then changed it to say that Mark Adams had told him that he should come back later.
The simple truth, Lanoue said, is that both said it -- Adams relayed Terri's message from the house so Lanoue could hear it where he was standing out in the yard by the drywall.
Lanoue also denied that he was angry at Adams, even though a published letter to the editor, written by his wife and co-signed by him, had criticized the way the Adams investigation had been handled.
"I wasn't mad they didn't charge Adams, I was mad they (the sheriff's department) didn't check things out thoroughly," Lanoue told Wold. "I wouldn't say I was upset (about charges not being filed initially) I was more concerned about someone who'd have a job in the school district with that kind of temper -- if you see the damage he did (to Rothschadl's eye)."
Ron and Matt Lanoue were not interviewed by a sheriff's investigator until several weeks after the incident, he said.
Lanoue said Rothschadl's injuries left the hog and grain farmer unable to drive or operate farm machinery for a number of weeks.
Sheriff Tim Gordon testified next, saying that he agreed with Evans' initial decision not to file charges, but when he discovered Matt Lanoue's statement about Adams asking for directions in the early afternoon, he reassigned the investigation within the department.
"The investigation continued and a substantial amount of information was gleaned after that," he said.
Rothschadl was next to testify, providing steady answers to questions posed by both Evans and Wold, in contrast to his increasingly unsteady testimony at the first trial in early March, which ended in a mistrial after he had a seizure and collapsed on the witness stand during cross-examination.
On Wednesday, he repeatedly denied that he was angry or out to get Adams.
He said Adams showed up at his farm and was immediately belligerent and aggressive, telling him that Terri and him were going to be together, and that he was going to be a stepfather eventually to the two young Rothschadl children.
"I said 'you're not going to see my kids any time soon.' He said 'you've got nothing to say about it,' and he slugged me in the right eye," Rothschadl testified. "I don't remember much of anything after that. I remember being on the ground. I thought he was on top of me and hit me a couple more times, but it's very vague memories."
He said when he picked himself up, Adams was leaning against his vehicle looking at him. "He said what I thought was kind of a strange thing," Rothschadl said. "He was standing there like this (with arms folded) and he said 'this is what I do.'"
The next day Rothschadl said he was diagnosed with a "blow-out" fracture of the left eye and after waiting two days for the swelling to go down, underwent surgery to repair the broken eye socket.
Under cross-examination, Wold asked Rothschadl if he blamed Adams for destroying his marriage.
There were other factors, Rothschadl answered, but "he certainly didn't help matters."
Wold pressed him on discrepancies in various official statements. In one, for example, Rothschadl said he had looked away during the confrontation with Adams and been blindsided by a punch to the eye.
Wold asked why he would look away if he thought Adams posed a threat.
"I didn't know what he was doing," Rothschadl said. "I've never been in a fight in my life ... I really didn't think somebody would come into my yard and do something like that."
Wold later suggested that Rothschadl would like to see Adams convicted and sent to prison to ensure he wouldn't be around the Rothschadl kids for a long time.
Rothschadl strongly denied it.
"I would never want that -- he has kids of his own," Rothschadl said.
The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case today (Thursday) and the defense will call its first witness as the jury trial continues at the Otter Tail County Courthouse in Fergus Falls, where it was moved because of pretrial publicity. Testimony is expected to wrap up Friday.